Full disclosure, I didn't pay any attention to this Raptors game with the epic Kentucky - Michigan game going on at the same time. I assumed that this would be a cake walk, given the fact that Orlando's firmly in the tanking race and the Raptors should have learned a lesson after barely earning two victories against the Boston Celtics.
For the first 2 and a half quarters, it seemed as if the Raptors would cruise to victory, as they managed the stretch the lead out to 21 at one point. Dwane Casey had even managed to get Nando De Colo and Landry Fields some burn by that time. If there's one thing we've learned about these Raptors, though, it's that they don't get blown out but don't blow teams out either. The Magic made a frantic run to wipe the lead out completely. The starter had to play more minutes that Casey intended in order to close this one out. Even then, the game ended in the sloppiest of fashions, with both the Magic and the Raptors turning it over in the final minute. With Brooklyn beating Minnesota, and Chicago facing Boston, the Raptors needed this W going into a tough week. At this point in the season, there's no time for moral victories and style points. Just get the job done.
- Jonas Valanciunas: Yet another strong showing by the big man. JV has been steadily coming into his own this season, and his development bodes well for the Raptors' future. He was the only starter with a positive +/-, and was very efficient in his shooting. We would've liked to see some better defence on Nikola Vucevic, but in all, it was a good night for JV. 20 points, 9 rebounds on 6-8 shooting.
- Nando De Colo & Landry Fields: I like what these two bring to the table. De Colo is a capable ball handler and is much more creative with the ball than I thought he would be. Fields may not be able to shoot a lick, but he's a valuable player off the bench in the right role. He's great at moving without the ball, and generally makes good decisions on both ends of the court. They were both key in building the Raptors' double digit lead today and hopefully we see them get some more burn as the season comes to an end.
- Blown Leads: It's probably a pretty bad sign that I wasn't surprised in the slightest when the Raptors let Orlando back in this game. These Raptors are a tough, resilient bunch, but they don't need to sweat it out against the likes of the Eastern Conference dregs. Guys like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Amir Johnson have been playing heavy minutes all season, and getting them some rest on the front end of a back to back would have been ideal. Some of this falls on Dwane Casey as well. Instead of getting too cute with the Hayes/Salmons/Vasquez line up in the 3rd quarter, he could have stuck with the Fields/De Colo combo that had built him the lead in the first place.
- John Salmons: For anyone who's been a part of the game day threads, you'll know that Salmons' inability to resemble a basketball player has become a running joke around these parts. His shot has gotten flatter and flatter as the season goes on, and without it, I'm finding it hard to see why he plays over Landry Fields. He had 2 turnovers in 8 minutes of playing time, and is becoming a serious liability on the offensive end of the floor. I would love to see De Colo and Fields get some of his minutes.